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(Rethinking) Makerspaces

Kids have always made in my library.

We encouraged digital and visual and dramatic and rhetorical creativity before, during, and after school.  But for a while, I’ve questioned the value of using already heavily used real estate to randomly carve out space for a 3D printer, electronics stations and sewing machines. I had my doubts about the makerspace movement in school libraries.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to chat with Amos Blanton, project manager of the Scratch online community, and a member of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab.  On his profile Amos notes:  I design and sustain creative learning environments for people with agency.

Amos makes the case for makerspaces as powerful, authentic, relevant learning experiences, and for when and why library may be the very right space to create a makerspace.

Here’s the video of our chat and a few of key points to consider before adopting a maker culture for libraries

Amos’ key points:

School pressures make it challenging to make space for interest-driven learning.  The library works differently.  The librarian doesn’t say, Here’s the book. Read it and I’m going to be evaluating how well you’ve read this book. That’s not how the library works.  The way it works is you go in and say, Hey I am interested in this. I want to know about this. Can you tell me how to connect with this interest that I have using all these great resources that you have?  And that’s really a closer analog to what I see as exciting about Makerspaces.  I have this idea — can you help me flesh it out and bring it into the world?

A Makerspace is not a one-size-fits-all kind of space. There are all kinds of idiosyncratic ways to have a Makerspace, different ways to dial into the local culture. In creating a new Makerspace, people should ask: What tools are already being used in the community?  What are teachers already doing? What is already there, and how can we add to and augment it?

Making is more powerful when driven by the interest of the learner.  Makerspaces in schools should connect to student’s authentic interests, or the experiences children have had.  When that connection is made, the experience will have more meaning and power, and will be more likely to attract student attention and engage their efforts.  If the agenda comes from outside, that could be problematic.  I want people to bring their own agendas and be supported. That’s a culture that already exists in libraries

What is very important and maybe not supported by many school curricula is people bringing into the world their own projects and ideas.  When students have to spend all their time fulfilling an external agenda, they don’t have a chance to learn how to create their own agenda. Teaching kids only what adults think they need to know can take up all the time kids need to explore what it is that they care about.

Freedom to choose changes the way students invest in a project.  We need to connect learners to their interests, to give them the freedom to choose what to do and learn. Of course there is a minimum we need to cover in schools —  everyone needs to be able to read and write.  But in the process of following their own interests, they’re going to develop a lot of other skills. They’ll develop their writing skills in service of documenting or discovering more about something that they love, not just in service of an assignment that someone else told them that they had to do. That distinction is a key aspect of what makes a powerful learning experiences. They’re connected to their interests.

School does some things well, but what I love about the library is that when I enter, I set the agenda.  I am going there because there is something that I want to know based on interests or what’s going on in my life or all sorts of local idiosyncratic contexts…. I am excited about Making in schools — it can be really great.  But if the agenda for what needs to be Made is coming from outside the Maker, then that could be problematic. What seems to be a great fit with libraries and interest driven learning is that the person who comes to the library sets the agenda.  I want them to be supported in that and that’s a culture that already exists in libraries. So Making is a perfect fit into an already existing library culture.


Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. This is a really timely post for me – we are looking to propose a makerspace in our library (grades K-8) for next year as a community resource (actually we hope to combine the media lab and library into a learning commons hub for the school).

    I like the delineation mentioned regarding the idea of throwing makerspace activities at students as a project option versus supporting interest driven learning (the latter providing a richer learning experience). Additionally, your framing of a good learning experience coming from interest driven activities (like choosing a book to read rather than being assigned one) helps me put ideas together for our proposal. What are your experiences with learning commons that bring together tech, library, and makerspaces?

    We are hoping to avoid pitfalls as we put together a vision (and subsequent proposal) for our learning commons – looking at the digital immigrant/native debate, have you seen any pushback from one group or the other when trying to implement a makerspace? Is there a stereotype that you have to work against, that we should think about addressing up front in a proposal? Even things like girl/boy interest levels could be facts to consider.

    In many education circles, I see a movement towards a lot of collaborative styled activities in learning experiences – do you see makerspaces as independent or collaborative spaces primarily? How much teacher interaction is the most effective? And is there an entry level tech skill set that is helpful (for example, students having a good foundation with information literacy and research skills)?

    I am seriously considering trying a pilot of sorts this year with a modified passion project session with grades 6, 7, 8. This could introduce the idea of interest driven learning opportunities. We would not have the full resources at hand, but it would be a start.

    In your “Librarians wanted for smashing, blending, toolkit building” post, you speak to how “… the need exists for a librarian to organize and curate tools.” As we begin to add more tech tools to the library, how are you finding ways to best organize the info? Would the makerspace info be organized online or in another way? PS – I LOVE the idea of ” Crowdsourcing what’s next. Help me explore what will be big in 2015” – I would love to have students do this too!

    Lots of questions – I apologize! There is a bit of “stream of consciousness” happening here! I am truly excited about the possibility of combining our media lab and library into one learning commons style space that includes a makerspace and am trying to educate myself on as much as possible. Again, a timely post and it has me thinking!


  1. […] (Rethinking) Makerspaces — @joycevalenza NeverEndingSearch:  Great article from Joyce Valenza on rethinking Makerspaces and how they can fit into the goals of the library.   tags:libraries tlchat linklove makerspace makereducation […]

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